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Cuban Healthcare Delivers, Experts Say

an appointment.

"The attention is pretty good, but it was a million times better six years ago, when we always saw the same doctor," said Torres, who suffers from tachycardia.

"The advantage is that it's free," Torres said. Medicine is often in short supply, even over-the-counter drugs, she said.

While Moore got free care in Cuba, most foreigners pay, in what some critics call a "two-tiered system" where elite hospitals are reserved for the Communist leadership and celebrities such as Argentine soccer idol Diego Maradona.

"In Cuba, the elite hospitals are as good as here, if not better," said Leonel Cordova, a Cuban doctor who works as a emergency room physician at Miami's Baptist Hospital.

"The hospitals dedicated to the health of regular citizens are a disaster," said Cordova, who was sent to work in Zimbabwe and defected in 2000. At these hospitals, Cubans bring personal items such as towels, bed sheets, soap and even food, he said.

And while Cuba holds up its health care system as one of the achievements of the revolution launched by Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1959, critics of the Cuban government say health care and other social benefits have come at a cost of political freedom in a one-party state.

Still, Cuba is a model for other developing countries that cannot afford costly medical treatment and where preventing illness makes good economic sense, said Gail Reed, producer of a recent documentary on Cuban health care called "Salud!"

Dr. David Hickey, a transplant surgeon at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said Cuba is a world leader in primary health care based on preventive medicine.

"It's a very sobering experience for someone coming from the affluent West to see what they can achieve," he said.

Hickey, an honorary professor of surgery at Havana University, said he had nothing to teach Cuban doctors who do heart, kidney, pancreas and liver transplant
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